#OccupySF march on April 1

It’s been a little while since I participated in an OccupySF event, a combination of my activities, their activities and the weather. But as we enter spring, many groups around the country are stepping up again. In San Francisco, OccupySF staged a march on April 1 with the goal of establishing a stable home in an empty building, an idea that many referred to as the “SF Commune.” Taking over an empty or abandoned building is not new for Occupy movements. Indeed, Occupy Oakland had staged a large demonstration earlier this year in which they were “planning to take over an abandoned building” whose location was being kept secret until the time of the event. It turned out to be the Kaiser Convention Center, the most well-known abandoned building in the city, and of course the attempt to “occupy” it was unsuccessful. I assumed that the building that would be the destination of the April 1 march would be a bit more obscure.

The event began in Union Square, a major commercial center in San Francisco with upscale retail and hotels. I found members of OccupySF sparsely gathered around the square, with a small concentration up near the stage having a party of sorts. I was particularly happy to see the Brass Liberation Orchestra present.

[This is my one and only Hipstamatic picture from the event.]

By coincidence, there was another demonstration happening on Union Square at the same time in support of the opposition in Syria. A sizable group of people were gathered in one corner of the square underneath multiple Syrian opposition flags. Unlike the current Syrian flag, which has two stars, the opposition flags have three stars, and a different color scheme, and are modeled after the flag of the Syrian Republic of the 1930s.

The march itself was quite delayed, as we were waiting were a bus of people from Occupy Oakland to join us and they were stuck in traffic. Why they chose to drive over the Bay Bridge in a bus on a Sunday afternoon instead of taking BART escapes me – everyone here knows the bridge is quite congested at this time. But they did eventually make it, and announcements went out informing us that we were going to be marching to “Occupy SF’s new home.” There were calls to be respectful of the building while making it our own. I was of course quite curious where this building would be and what it would be like. Would it be a modern but vacant office building, or would it be one of the dilapidated apartment buildings in the central Tenderloin district, where the march was initially headed?

And then the march finally began. We streamed out of Union Square, with the Brass Liberation Orchestra launching into that same funky bass rhythm I remembered from the big events last October. It was reminiscent of classic disco bass lines. You can hear a bit of it in this video of our exodus from Union Square, though it is a bit of a challenge to separate from the general din.

We continued the march westward along Geary Street, with the older buildings of the central downtown district to either side of us. (Reports referred to this as Geary Boulevard, which is a common mistake. Geary Boulevard is west of Van Ness Avenue. Here it is still Geary Street.)

This is the major theater district of San Francisco, between Geary and Market. It is also on the upper edge of The Tenderloin, a neighborhood rich in history and culture with bars and clubs, but also a notoriously blighted area with dilapidated apartment buildings and SRO hotels. The city keeps trying to bring businesses here, particularly along “Mid-Market”, with the most recent effort involving Twitter. But there are still lots of abandoned or vacant buildings here, and I had assumed this is where we would end up. But the march continued onward, passing Leavenworth Street and a block where I did some of my most artistic photographs, including one that used a bright red MUNI shelter that we passed.

We came the large intersection of Geary and Van Ness Avenue and then headed south down Van Ness. I was a little unsure at this point where we were going to end up. I thought maybe we would be turning back into the “TL”, but instead we turned westward onto Turk Street. We came to a stop at the corner of Turk and Gough. This is at the edge of the historic Western Addition neighborhood, but also abutting the spreading upscale areas of Nob Hill to the north and Hayes Valley to the south. I wasn’t expecting this location, but here we were, in front of an unassuming low-rise building that looked like a school or public office built in the 1960s.

In the sense that it was a nondescript commercial building, it did fit the profile of an ideal location. The only distinguishing element was the number “888”. This was #888Turk, the new home of OccupySF. Protesters quickly entered into the building, with loud music blaring from the Occupy Oakland bus parked in front on Turk Street.

Soon protesters reached the roof and unfurled banners to cheers on the street and from within the building.

I It turns out that the building, although vacant, is owned by the Archdiocese of San Francisco (i.e., owned by the Catholic church), which explained the rather Christian-sounding banner that some protesters unfurled after taking over the building. It is claimed that this building has been vacant for five years, though the Archdiocese claims it was only vacant for 18 months after housing a school.

I departed sometime in the early evening. But the occupation of 888 Turk continued overnight and into the next morning, but during the day on Monday the building was raided by the police, with about 75 people arrested and then later released. You can read an account (with illustrations) in this article by Susie Cagle at Truthouth. It is hard to say whether this is a success or not But it is one of the more dramatic events to occur so far this spring, and it has been picked up in the press and by other groups around the country. So perhaps it will come to something.

Farewell to 2011

As has become a tradition here at CatSynth, we present our end-of-year image.

[Click to enlarge.]

It was a bit of a challenge to decide what to put in, as there were so many this time. But I think these are particularly representative. And it’s also significant that it is more colorful than previous end-of-year images.

The first few days of this year were quiet and a bit dark. That changed quickly, with tumultuous events around the world, and new experiences close to home. It’s the year I finally had a photography show, and by the end of the year I had several. There were new surprising types of performances and the costumes to go with them. I deepened my connections back in New York with friends, music, art and the landscape. And I no idea what I would have the chance to participate in something like the Occupy movement . There were many sad moments as well, with the loss of friends.

In all, 2011 has been particularly rich and productive, if sometimes a bit chaotic. If one had told me at the end of 2007 or 2008 (or 2001 for that matter) that this is what life would be like now, I would have been pleasantly surprised. There is a sense, however, that the patterns of this past year are not sustainable. This will have to be part of the plan for 2012, in particular getting organized, staying healthy and trying to make good choices. We will see how that unfolds as the new year progresses…

Happy New Year and thank you for all the support and warmth from those who read these pages!

#OccupySF march in San Francisco, November 5

In this article, we follow the #OccupySF march in San Francisco yesterday through some Hipstamatic photos, with nods to some of the city’s architecture and icons that we passed along the way.

We began at the base of Market Street, the main thoroughfare of the city. It runs diagonally and separates two separate street grids that run at 45-degree angles to one another, some thing confuses not only visitors but many locals as well.

An impressive line of police ran parallel to the march. This was primarily to separate the marchers from traffic, which continued on the other side of Market Street. The interactions my group had with the police were quite cordial. One even helped us with info from the announcements at the front of the march which we could barely hear from our position.

For those who criticize the Occupy movement for not having any sort of focus, it should be noted that yesterday’s march and events were squarely focused on the banking industry and the largest banks in particular. It coincided with “Bank Transfer Day” in which large numbers of people moved their accounts from the large banks to either credit unions or community banks. San Francisco remains a large banking center. Wells Fargo still has its headquarters at the corner of Montgomery and California. We had a demonstration in front of the building.

Bank of America used to have its headquarters in San Francisco as well, at 555 California Street. 555 California is the second tallest building in San Francisco, a large imposing structure of brown granite. It is often derided, but I kind of like it as an example of modernism in an architecturally conservative city. It has a large plaza above street level common for commercial buildings from the 1970s. The march stopped here for an extended sit in.

From there we continued up California Street towards Chinatown. Here you can see the marchers passing one of our iconic cable cars.

We then turned north on Grant Avenue, the main street through the center of Chinatown.

Grant Avenue always feels a bit touristy, though it does have some great dive bars hidden away. For good inexpensive Chinese food go one block over to Stockton Street. We did, however, briefly chant in Cantonese, with the majority of us non-speakers responding with the word “Unite!”, which translates to 团结 (tuan jie in Mandarin, but I can’t find a written pronunciation for Cantonese).

At the informal boundary of Chinatown and North Beach, we turned east onto Broadway. Broadway in North Beach is about as close to a traditional red-light district as we have in San Francisco. As Broadway heads down the hill towards the Embarcadero, the neighborhoods feel a bit more ambiguous and nondescript. I have walked in the area countless times, it’s usually quiet with small buildings and lots and the shadows of the financial district and Telegraph Hill to either side.

On reaching the Embarcadero, we headed south along the wide palm-tree lined boulevard.

It is interesting to note that 25 years ago, this location was the underside of a somewhat industrial double-decker freeway, the Embarcadero Freeway, that ran from the Bay Bridge to Broadway. It was torn down after the 1989 earthquake.

And ended up back at the official #OccupySF camp at Justin Herman Plaza. The camp is at the south end of the plaza. The north side is another iconic modernist space that many people in the city love to hate – but I am quite fond of it. It includes the